A LARGE TIME IN CAPE BRETON
About Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
A LARGE TIME IN CAPE BRETON
When a Caper (person born in Cape Breton) says, “It’s a large day,” they mean it's a wonderful day. Well, I’ve just had couple of very large weeks on Nova Scotia’s ruggedly beautiful island brimming with genuine maritime hospitality, lip-smacking lobster feeds and kick-up-your-heels Celtic jigs.
Travel + Leisure magazine ranked Cape Breton as “the number one island to visit in continental North America” in 2011 and National Geographic has described it as “the most scenic island in the world.”
But its most recent claim to fame is known as the “Trump Bump.” Last February a local radio host, Rob Calabrese, started a website pitching Cape Breton as a bucolic Trump-free place that welcomed visitors from the US rather than putting up walls (referring to Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border).
The site went viral, especially with Americans, so the Cape Breton tourism folks launched another site to explain how Americans could set up a new life in Cape Breton should Mr. Trump become president. As a result, bookings to the island’s B&Bs and hotels are up 30 percent from last year.
Here’s my insider’s guide to where to save and splurge on Cape Breton Island, where the apt motto is: “Your heart will never leave.”
THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST
Buying a Parks Canada Discovery Pass gets you into many of the island’s major attractions, including the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, Fortress Louisbourg National Historic Site and more.
As a step towards celebrating the 150th birthday of Canada’s Confederation, the 2016 pass is valid for two years. Price for a family or group up to seven people in a single vehicle is $136.40; $33.30 for ages 6 to 16; $67.70 for adults, $57.90 for seniors.www.pc.gc.ca
Park Canada’s new “oTENTiks, available at Ingonish Beach, Broad Cove and Cheticamp campgrounds, offer accommodation in a combo tent/rustic cabin. Each oTENTik is equipped with beds, furniture and barbecue and sleeps six. Bring your own bedding and cooking gear. Cost is $100 per night.
Cereal Killers and Panic Lines
No, I am not talking about a horror movie. The clever folks at the Big Spruce Brewing Company in Nyanza have created snappy names for their unfiltered, unpasteurized ales and brews, including Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout and Kitchen Party Pale Ale. Their glasses have a “panic line” about an inch from the bottom so you know when to order a refill. You can sample their brews on their patio or at several pubs in Nova Scotia.www.bigspruce.ca
Your feast includes fruit, cheese and crackers, water, salad and a choice of sandwich and dessert. Your picnic will be prepared by chefs at Keltic Lodge. Place your order and pick up your wicker basket, complete with red-and-white checked blanket. Choose your spot from a variety of locations in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Cost is $22 per person plus $34 for the souvenir basket and blanket. www.pc.gc.ca
Baddeck for the Day
Baddeck, situated on Bras D’Or Lake, has plenty of charms. At the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site you will learn about the man and his amazing inventions that include the telephone, man-carrying kites, a hydrofoil boat and his experimental airplane, the Silver Dart. Being a true Scotsman, Bell built a par-four and two greens on his nearby estate named Beinn Bhreagh.
Later, follow your nose to Baddeck Lobster Suppers. Your meal comes with a choice of lobster, salmon or steak plus all-you-can-eat seafood chowder, mussels, rolls, salads and desserts. After dinner, join locals at the nightly summer ceilidh (kitchen party) at St. Michael’s Parish Hall. Check the website for the schedule of performers and don’t be surprised if manager, Nancy MacLean gets you up on the floor for a square dancing lesson. At the break you’ll enjoy oatcakes and a strong cup of King Cole tea, the preferred brew of Capers.www.baddeckgathering.com
A good place to spend the night is Auberge Gisele’s Inn where the rooms, cuisine and gardens are top-notch.www.giseles.com
Everywhere I go, I make it my mission to find the best coffee house. I was about to give up in Cape Breton, where Tim Horton’s reigns as the favourite brew of most locals. But Ian McNeil, a man who seems to know everything about his island took me to Doktor Luke’s, “a respectable coffee house” in Sydney. True to their slogan, Doktor Luke’s serves up great espresso, lattés and cappuccinos made by real baristas. And while you’re there, grab a buttertart.www.doktorlukes.com
THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST
A Wee Dram
The Glenora Inn & Distillery, opened in 1990, calls its “water of life” Canada Single Malt because only whisky distilled in Scotland can be called Scotch. North America’s first single malt whisky distillery offers tours ($7 per adult) with a free sample. They also have a very good dining room and a lively pub where you can taste drams from their various vintages and enjoy fiddle music most nights. Splurge on a bottle of Glen Breton Rare 10 Year. www.glenoradistillery.com
All Aboard Swingers and SailorsCaptain Paul Jamieson, his daughter Tracy and son-in-law Jamie will make you very welcome aboard their 42-foot Cape Bretoner 1 catamaran. They know all the good places to stop for a dip, such as Maskells Harbour where Alexander Graham Bell and colleagues rafted together and formed The Cruising Club of America. Most visitors only see Cape Breton from the land but it’s even more beautiful from the Bras D’Or Lake.
Keen golfers can customize a trip that lets them sail and play Dundee Resort & Golf Club, The Lakes and Bell Bay. Afterwards, if you want to play the rest of Cape Breton’s stellar courses (trust me, you do), Captain Paul will organize ground arrangements for Highlands Links, Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links. Not to be missed!
Sailing Cape Breton Island offers bareboot charters, corporate team-building cruises and other options. The commodious interior includes three bedrooms, two heads and a roomy galley. There’s plenty of room for sunbathing and games on the bow and stern and a dinghy to take you ashore.www.sailingcbi.com
Twins Michele Newcombe and Monique Delisle hand-make their own Michique line of handbags and wallets. It’s a rags to riches tale of how the twins one day received an e-mail that they thought was a joke from a woman in Los Angeles asking if they would donate some product for the celebrity swag bags given out at the Toronto International Film Festival. Now their bags have been given away at the Cannes Film Festival, Golden Globes and more. Michelle Obama, Sophie Trudeau, Sharon Stone and Ellen DeGeneres are amongst the owners of Michique bags, each lined with red satin and festooned with nine Swarovski crystals.www.michique.ca
In Pleasant Bay take a two-hour whale-watching excursion with Captain Mark on his 42-foot Double Hookup research vessel. Captain Mark will turn on the sonar so you can hear the whales’ songs underwater and he guarantees sightings. Stop at the nearby Chowder House in Neil’s Harbour for a lobster club and cup of soup.www.whaleandsealcruise.com
Chef Ardon Mofford who owns Governors Pub & Eatery in Sydney serves up some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. Don’t leave the island without trying his butter-poached halibut, seafood chowder, calamari with Thai sauce, steamed mussels in white wine and Smuggler’s Cove rum cake. Live music plays almost every night.www.governorseatery.com